Monday, February 24, 2014

Thou Must Not Meddle in Ukraine

"Russia Meddles In Ukraine Chaos" is the blaring headline on Huffington post.

I suppose sponsoring and enthusiastically supporting a protest movement that overthrew a president -as the West has done- isn't meddling. That would be called... umm... we would call that... ah, fuck it... FREEDOM! DEMOCRACY! DOWN WITH THE RUSSIAN EMPIRE!!!

Yes, that sounds better.

In December of last year, Gallup poll asked people in former Soviet republics whether the collapse of the Soviet Union has done more harm or good. Ukraine clocked in at 56% "harm" a percentage point BEHIND the crown jewel of the Evil Empire itself - Russia. Though Armenia -the ancestral home of Kim Kardashian- took the prize with 66% of the population reminiscing about the good old communist days.

Yes, it is hard for many people in the West to compute that every one of Russian neighbors doesn't completely hate the bear and many even express nostalgia for the time they dwelt in its furry shadow.

Many of the most ardent and militant of the protesters in the barricades have a uniting hero - Stepan Bandera. Now, when I say that he is a uniting hero, I mean to say that he unites everyone against him. Stepan Bandera was born in the early twentieth century when Western Ukrainians were a tribe divided and scattered between national borders. They were surrounded by Russians, Russian-speaking Ukrainians, Poles and Jews. Bandera had a plan to establish an ethnically pure base for his people -so far so good- the bummer is that he decided to do this by killing everyone else.

Allied with the German invaders he participated in the Holocaust but also slaughtered innocent Russian, Polish and Belorussian civilians. KGB caught up with Bandera after the war. He was assassinated in Munich in 1969.

Statues of him grace the cities of Western Ukraine. When the previous "pro-Western" president of Ukraine , Victor Yushchenko, came up with a bright idea of giving Bandera the title of "Hero of Ukraine" this infuriated not only Russians and Jews but also caused a protest outside of the Ukrainian embassy in Poland.

“Shame on Bandera! Shame on Yushchenko! Shame on Polish politicians who thoughtlessly supported Yushchenko,” wrote Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski, a Catholic priest who helped lead the protests outside the Ukrainian embassy in Warsaw. (Source: Global Post.)

This act sponsored the rise of the currently-deposed "pro-Russian" president who annulled the award when he was elected.


Back in the good old Soviet days -for which 56% of Ukrainians brim with nostalgia- Nikita Khrushchev decided to give the Soviet Republic of Ukraine a gift. The gift was a huge one- the Crimean Peninsula.

 Back in 1774 (around the time America was winning its war of independence) the Tsar finally won over the Crimean Khans and Crimea became a part of the Russian Empire. Since then it has been a traditional Russian territory connected with Ukraine only through geographical proximity. With its beautiful beeches, Crimea was called the "playground of the Tsars." The famous post-WWII Yalta conference took place there.

Now Khrushchev transferred Crimea to Ukraine. A largely symbolic act since everyone was still a part of the great, unbreakable socialist family of nations. When that family filed for divorce and the Soviet Union ceased to be, 60% of the Crimean populations -who are ethnic Russians- found themselves in Ukraine. The Russian black-sea fleet is still based in Crimea today and as these Russians watch fans of Bandera proclaiming their victory, they are none too pleased.

Imagine yourself being ruled by the type of angry folks who celebrate the Nazi-affiliated killer of your people.

Thousands of them amassed waiving Russian flags asking for the motherland to claim her forsaken children. If you think that the "forsaken children" is a bit of hyperbole, it was actually a sign I saw one grandma carry when I was reading a BBC story on the protests.

Ethnic Russians in Ukrainians as well as Russian-speaking Ukrainians who reminisce about Soviet days, now find themselves in a bankrupt country in the midst of a revolution partly led by fervent fans of Stepan Bandera.

Maybe Russia shouldn't meddle in Ukraine, but the Russian hand isn't the only one in the cookie jar.

Ukraine is a feeble boat in uncertain waters. Rock that boat hard enough and some of its inhabitants will face no choice but to leap for the neighboring, brotherly vessel.

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